Travel with baby can’t be avoided. No parent should feel chained to their home for five or six years waiting for their children to reach an age where they’ll be more conveniently portable. We’ve got a world to explore and our babies are coming with us!
So before you set out on your travels. I want to make sure you’re armed with all the information you need to maintain those sleep skills you’ve been working so hard to develop.
So how do we maintain good sleep habits while we’re traveling? If we’re crossing time zones, how do we deal with the inevitable complication of jet lag in our babies?
When to travel
Some of us like to envision this scenario where we jump on the plane when baby’s already asleep. Then they just magically sleep through the entire flight, arriving fresh and rested and ready for the holiday. It’s much more likely that you’re both going to have an awful night and arrive frazzled and seriously overtired.
Travel on a daytime flight and hope for a decent nap or two on the way. You’re all going to arrive with a bit of a sleep debt anyway. This is largely because motion sleep isn’t nearly as restful as what we’re used to, but that can actually help you get your baby adjusted to the new schedule.
Given the special circumstances surrounding travel, I think this is one of those rare times when it’s OK to give in to their demands. If they want to watch movies, I say that’s fantastic. Be sure to pack your carry-on with a complete supply of toys, snacks, books, and portable battery chargers, and whatever they ask for, hand it over.
The only real exception here is not to feed baby a sugary snacks in the hope of keeping her placated during the travel. Unfortunately it’s just going to result in a sugar crash when she comes down from that high. Then that’s going to make sleep that much harder.
Offer her plenty of fruits and vegetables when traveling. In addition make sure you keep her hydrated. It’s probably going to mean a bunch of potty breaks, but trust me, it’s worth it. Jet lag symptoms go way beyond sleep. Constipation and diarrhoea are two of the most common, so maintaining proper hydration is crucial.
Is it worth altering the schedule?
If you’re traveling for less than five days, it’s probably not worth making adjustments to baby’s bedtime. Regardless of the time difference. Experts say that jet lag lasts, on average, for about a day for every hour of time change. So if you’re taking a four-day trip and you’re looking at a six-hour time change. It’s hardly worth getting baby fully adjusted to the difference just to turn around and have to do it all over again once you get home.
If, however, you’re going to be gone for longer than five days, then you’ll want to adjust to the new time zone as quickly. Luckily, our bodies have an inherent ability to adapt to new time zones. This is based on the light/dark cycle, so you’ll have nature working on your side. So yeah, night one, straight into the new time zone. It might not be a seamless transition, but we’ll work on that.
Stick to your bedtime routine
Bedtime routines are about more than just getting into comfortable clothes and cleaning our teeth. A predictable bedtime routine sends signals to the brain that sleep is just over the horizon. The brain start preparing for it by firing up the melatonin production, relaxing the muscles, and slowing down mental activity. So whatever your baby’s bedtime routine is at home, stick as closely to it as you can. Black out any external light sources two hours before baby’s bedtime. A completely dark room is one of the best tools you’ve got for helping them get to sleep.
Keep the sunshine on your side
As much as we don’t want any sunlight getting in the room while baby’s trying to sleep, we want lots of it when they’re awake. Getting a significant amount of sunlight during the day charges up our melatonin production. This helps get the circadian rhythm adjusted quickly to the new time zone. So getting outdoors during the day will work wonders in helping baby sleep well at night.
Add an extra nap after travel
Even in the best case scenario, baby’s still going to be needing a little more sleep once you get where you’re going. So an extra nap of somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, can really help counteract the over tiredness that comes after a long flight. Just remember to leave enough space between waking up from her last nap and bedtime. That way you can ensure there’s time for fatigue to build up before bedtime.
Let’s say you’ve got an 8 month-old and your usual bedtime is 20:00. You’ll want to get her up from her last nap of the day by no later than 17:00 so she’s sleepy enough to go down for the night once bedtime comes around.
Keep things familiar
Remember to pack baby’s favourite PJs, lovie, blanket, pillow, and so on. Once baby’s asleep, it will help them to stay that way if their surroundings are familiar.
Try and avoid sharing the bed while you’re traveling unless you want to bed share when you get home as well. Babies get attached to this scenario in the blink of an eye. Once they’ve gotten attached, they can be seriously tenacious about sleeping in their own bed.
Remember who you’re dealing with
Nobody thrives when they’re sleep deprived, and kids are no different. We’re all going to be a little grumpy and short-tempered once that plane lands. Remember you’re the adult here and it’s up to you to keep everything on an even keel, even if your baby starts melting down. She is, after all, a baby, and she’s likely pretty tired.
It takes about a day to adjust for every hour of time difference. It’s going to require patience and consistency on your part to get them over the hump as soon as possible. Keeping your cool will help baby adjust quicker. The sooner you’re all accustomed to the new time zone, the sooner you can all get on with enjoying your trip.